I see that various forms of technology are taking over our jobs. As a news guy, I’m told that my job may soon be obsolete. Artificial Intelligence can do everything I do, and maybe better, so they say. It’s funny how the word “artificial” once signified something that was lacking in natural quality, and now we are embracing it.
Certainly we have all mourned the loss of once-popular occupations. We wax nostalgic about elevator operators and service station attendants. We tell our children about workers who used to push the button so we could find our way to the 3rd floor in a 3-story building, and the guys who would cheerfully clean our windshield and check under the hood. If some presidential candidate was serious about making America great again, they would bring back gas pump jockeys.
Hopefully “TV news anchor” won’t go the way of the town crier by the time I hang up my microphone. In fact, my television station now has more employees than it did in the 1980s. The emerging digital media world has created jobs in my industry. These are 24-7 jobs, unlike the old days when we brought you half-hour newscasts at 6 and 11 every night, and nothing more.
I am also proud to say that we still have a receptionist at our front desk. She greets visitors, answers every phone call, and handles all incoming and outgoing mail and packages. Most importantly, she is the face and voice of our company. She is the first impression we make to a visitor, or someone calling to seek help or information. It’s an underrated, unappreciated job.
Yet increasingly the job of receptionist is disappearing. It would be easy to blame the pandemic, the catch-all for everything that isn’t as good as it used to be. But receptionists were already being phased out pre-COVID.
Some genius had figured out a way to sell business owners a “better” way. “Let me tell you how it works. I’ll build you a phone tree! Instead of poor old Esther at the front desk transferring the calls, your potential customer will be greeted by a professionally recorded voice instructing them to press 1 for English, and then pressing various other numbers for administration, sales, human resources, maintenance and what-not, and once they figure that out, they can punch in the first three letters of someone’s last name, unless of course they don’t know the last name, and then we’ll send ‘em back to the main menu. And you only pay for this amazing system once, so you’ll no longer have to pay out Esther’s meager salary or provide her health insurance. What’s that? SOLD!”
I regularly visit radio stations. In radio’s heyday, the receptionist’s desk was a beehive of activity. At one of my first stations, Dorothy Oliver was our receptionist, or as she preferred to say, “The Director of First Impressions.” She practically ran the place. She knew everyone in the building, she knew all the gossip, and nobody got anywhere without going through Dorothy first. She enthusiastically greeted every caller, she smiled as she handed out albums and concert tickets to winning listeners, and she knew whether she should handle a complaint herself, or kick it up the ladder. She organized the office parties, made sure everyone’s birthday was celebrated, and was the lifeline of our company.
During some of my recent radio station visits, there were no Dorothys. Just a sign on the locked front door: “If you are a contest winner, call (phone number) and Billy Bob will come downstairs with your prize.” (Sure, you may have to stand out in the rain, but we care about you.) “If you are dropping off a package, call (different phone number)…” and so on.
Yes, in bygone days making a good first impression and greeting every (potential) customer was a top priority. The lady who was the receptionist at Chattanooga’s McCallie School was a favorite of mine. She practically sang “McCallie Schooool” when she answered the phone. I would call just to hear her cheerful greeting, and to compliment her. Nothing artificial can ever surpass a Director of First Impressions.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “I Won’t Be Your Escape Goat” is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com.